When Christina heard what had happened she said she could condone all except that Theobald should have been subjected to such insolence from one of his own servants through the misconduct of his son. Theobald was the bravest man in the whole world, and could easily have collared the wretch and turned him out of the room, but how far more dignified, how far nobler had been his reply! How it would tell in a novel or upon the stage, for though the stage as a whole was immoral, yet there were doubtless some plays which were improving spectacles. She could fancy the whole house hushed with excitement at hearing John’s menace, and hardly breathing by reason of their interest and expectation of the coming answer. Then the actor—probably the great and good Mr Macready—would say, “I shall leave Master Ernest, John, to the reproaches of his own conscience.” Oh, it was sublime! What a roar of applause must follow! Then she should enter herself, and fling her arms about her husband’s neck, and call him her lion-hearted husband. When the curtain dropped, it would be buzzed about the house that the scene just witnessed had been drawn from real life, and had actually occurred in the household of the Rev. Theobald Pontifex, who had married a Miss Allaby, etc., etc.
As regards Ernest the suspicions which had already crossed her mind were deepened, but she thought it better to leave the matter where it was. At present she was in a very strong position. Ernest’s official purity was firmly established, but at the same time he had shown himself so susceptible that she was able to fuse two contradictory impressions concerning him into a single idea, and consider him as a kind of Joseph and Don Juan in one. This was what she had wanted all along, but her vanity being gratified by the possession of such a son, there was an end of it; the son himself was naught.
No doubt if John had not interfered, Ernest would have had to expiate his offence with ache, penury and imprisonment. As it was the boy was “to consider himself” as undergoing these punishments, and as suffering pangs of unavailing remorse inflicted on him by his conscience into the bargain; but beyond the fact that Theobald kept him more closely to his holiday task, and the continued coldness of his parents, no ostensible punishment was meted out to him. Ernest, however, tells me that he looks back upon this as the time when he began to know that he had a cordial and active dislike for both his parents, which I suppose means that he was now beginning to be aware that he was reaching man’s estate.
About a week before he went back to school his father again sent for him into the dining-room, and told him that he should restore him his watch, but that he should deduct the sum he had paid for it—for he had thought it better to pay a few shillings rather than dispute the ownership of the watch, seeing that Ernest had undoubtedly given it to Ellen—from his pocket money, in payments which should extend over two half years. He would therefore have to go back to Roughborough this half year with only five shillings’ pocket money. If he wanted more he must earn more merit money.